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Full text of "[untitled] The American Historical Review, (1898-10-01), pages 184-186"

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184 Reviews of Books 

History of California. By Theodore H. Hittell. Vols. III. and 
IV. (San Francisco: N. J. Stone and Co. 1897. Pp. 981, 858.) 

The earlier volumes of Mr. Theodore Hittell' s History of California 
covered the period preceding the admission of the state into the Union. 
The present volumes conclude the entire work, extend their story as far 
as the death of Governor Bartlett, in 1887, and deal with the periods of 
the early mining life, the great Vigilance Committee, the political 
struggles before the war, and the industrial and political developments 
since the war. 

The disposition of the extensive material is substantially as follows : — 
Book VIII. of the whole work, with which the third volume opens, dis- 
cusses, in fourteen chapters, covering some 330 pages, the "Early Min- 
ing Life." In this book, Chapter I. gives a general account of the 
methods and conditions of the early stages of placer mining life ; Chap- 
ters II. and III. give some of the annals of the "northern mines;" 
Chapter IV. is devoted in a similar way to the "southern mines;" and 
Chapter V. tells some of the stories of the early gold excitement, with 
their attendant " results." Hereupon, the chapters from the sixth to the 
ninth, inclusive, portray the social conditions and general "character- 
istics ' ' of the early miners, at considerable length, the treatment being 
based upon those countless anecdotes, as well as more or less contempo- 
raneous reports, which memory and travellers' and pioneers' narratives 
have preserved, in one form or another, until now. The development 
of miners' law, the struggle for organization, the varieties of Lynch law, 
and, finally, the first large Vigilance Committee of San Francisco, in 
1851, occupy Chapters X. to XIV., and conclude Book VIII. 

Book IX. is devoted to the ' ' Progress of San Francisco. ' ' After four 
chapters on the very rapid development that occurred between 1850 
and 1854, Chapters V. and VI. of this book discuss the commercial 
calamities of 1854-55 ; and Chapter VII. begins the often-told tale of 
the Vigilance Committee of 1856. The story of the great committee then 
continues through Chapter XIV. , to the close of the Book (p. 649 of the 
volume). 

Book X. deals with a more miscellaneous collection of topics, under 
the head of " State Growth. ' ' The United States Land Commission of 185 1 
for the settlement of the titles of Mexican origin, the early squatters, the 
various "anti-foreigner" movements; the filibusters (especially the 
famous Nicaragua filibuster Walker) ; the early visits to Humboldt Bay 
and to Yosemite ; the early stages of agriculture ; and the Indian wars 
(including events as late as the Modoc war of 1873), here together fill 
fourteen chapters, extending to page 981, and so closing the volume. 

The fourth and final volume of the whole work contains Books XL and 
XII., and is devoted to the political history of the state. This volume 
begins once more with the admission of California into the Union, and 
with the administration of the first governor, Peter Burnett. The titles 
of the chapters of both books of this volume are usually furnished by the 



Hittell: History of California 185 

names of the successive governors ; but an exception is made in the case 
of the famous politician and senator Broderick, who was killed by Terry 
in the noted duel in 1859, and in the case of the Pacific Railroads and of 
the new constitution of 1879. These topics receive treatment in chapters 
with special titles. 

Of the two volumes here in question, the third is of most interest to 
the general student of American history, although there are also various 
episodes in the fourth volume which have a decidedly general national in- 
terest. For example, the career of Broderick and his famous rivalry with 
Gwin are, from any point of view, notable incidents of the period of 
ante-bellum politics ; the forces that kept California in the Union during 
the war must interest every student of the fortunes of the Republic at that 
time ; the completion of the first Pacific Railroad, and the rather unex- 
pected social and economic sequel of that enterprise, are matters of 
national importance ; and the story of the struggles that led to the new 
constitution of 1879, including the annals of the "Sand Lots," must form 
a part of the complete history of our more recent social processes in this 
country. Mr. Hittell's work has no very dangerous rival as an extensive 
and careful portrayal of just these matters, so far as he has found material 
accessible. The early history of the province of California has been more 
extensively, and on the whole -somewhat better told in the volumes pre- 
pared under the general direction of Mr. H. H. Bancroft than in Mr. Hit- 
tell's first two volumes of his California history. But for the period since 
the admission of California, the Pacific Coast histories of Mr. Bancroft's 
well-known series are much more unequal in character and far less scholarly 
than the earlier volumes ; and any one who wants to be clear as to the 
basis upon which statements bearing upon California matters since 1850 
are to rest, will, in this portion of the field, hereafter consult Mr. Hit- 
tell, until the whole material has received some new presentation. And 
Mr. Hittell's advantage rather grows the later down his chapters come in 
the story. 

Meanwhile the general student will easily find Mr. Hittell's treat- 
ment too diffuse, his style colorless, and open to a good many literary 
objections, and his method not precisely the ideal one for a local history. 
For the method is one that runs to seemingly endless detail, and that 
uses too few summaries, and too few general points of view. But the de- 
fects do not prevent these volumes from being, for their purpose, a really 
admirable product of labor and devotion. They are often rough-hewn 
and uneven. Trivial facts or reports stand side by side with serious mat- 
ters. There is a frequent lack of perspective. But Mr. Hittell makes 
the most studious efforts to be impartial, to avoid hero-worship, to subor- 
dinate his obvious and intense local patriotism to a purely objective con- 
cern for the truth, to keep clear of all unnecessary controversy, to be 
thorough-going, and even (what is hardest of all for the local historian) 
to be just to the relative importance of the various branches of his com- 
plex subject. It is in this last respect that, as just pointed out, he is 
especially open to criticism, but his efforts, at least, are constant and ob- 



1 86 Reviews of Books 

vious. The general disposition of the materials, as just sketched, will 
seem at first sight, no doubt, to any student unacquainted with Califor- 
nia, unnecessarily awkward. For why, one may say, should Volume IV. 
begin afresh with the admission of the state, when Volume III. has 
brought the story of social conditions and of Indian wars down to such 
comparatively recent dates ? Yet, as a fact, the disposition in question is 
in its general outlines only too natural, in view of a certain rather un- 
happy divorce between the social and the political life of the state — a di- 
vorce which long characterized just this community. The miner and the 
politician, the Vigilance Committee man and the governor of the state, 
the filibuster, the squatter and the warrior with Indians, — all these are 
products of California whose fortunes and whose interests were for a long 
time far too independent of one another. The awkwardness of the story 
is in so far really due to the essential awkwardness and waywardness of 
the life portrayed. Government and society long lived, as it were, in 
two connected, but far too independent worlds. 

As for a very few details, that may serve to guide a reader's interest 
in these volumes : — The sketch of the social conditions of the early min- 
ing-camp life is still rather disappointingly at the mercy of mere anec- 
dotes. The actual factors and forces at work are rather imperfectly ana- 
lyzed. After all that has been written upon the tcpic, one regrets to find 
the material so little reduced to a definitely classified and orderly form, 
and still so much left in the region of mere gossip. The land troubles 
are dealt with in a judicial spirit, and upon some matters, such as the 
pueblo claims at San Francisco, Mr. Hittell preserves his independence 
of judgment in despite of the decision of the courts. The very extensive 
and minute narrative of the great Vigilance Committee of 1856 takes ac- 
count of all the latest materials, and maintains the traditional Californian 
view of the affair with great coolness and skill, and even with more fair- 
ness of tone towards some of the opponents of the Committee than one 
sometimes finds. As for the relation of California to the breaking-out of 
the Civil War, one is indeed again disappointed to find that Mr. Hittell, 
after all his opportunities to collect material, has so little that is new to 
say, although what he says is indeed obvious and sensible enough so far 
as it goes. There must surely be material in existence, in regard to this 
crisis in California, which would repay a careful monographic study. 
The account of the " Sand-Lot" and of the new constitution of 1879 is 
almost provokingly dispassionate, as well as almost wholly free from the 
sociological observations that would be, in these days, natural enough. 
In fact, Mr. Hittell' s self-restraint as to all matters of generalization, 
here as elsewhere, seems to go too far ; for he shows a practised judg- 
ment whenever he chooses to express himself in more general fashion ; 
and his few summaries, where they occur, are always welcome. 

Extensive sections of these volumes will have only a local interest ; 
but the state of California, in any shape, deserves the careful attention of 
the student of American history. These volumes close with a copious 
index to the whole work. 

Josiah Royce.